“He has power mentally because he has what we all want,” said reigning World Champion Evan Lysacek, who finished fourth at the 2006 Olympics. “It’s going to take some mighty fine skating to get that power away from him.”
But Lysacek is capable of the “mighty fine skating” needed to top Plushenko. In the short program Tuesday, he finished a little more than a half-a-point behind the Russian, who opened his program with a quadruple toe-triple toe combination, the hardest of all jumping passes attempted at the Pacific Coliseum.
Lysacek will not attempt a quad in the free skate because of a reoccurring injury to his left foot, which he had in a cast last spring. “I’ve always thought of the quad as an important element but because of my foot, I haven’t been able to rely on it, so I’ve worked with [choreographer] Lori Nichol to make my programs as strong as possible in every other area,” he said.
He won both the 2009 World Championship in March and the 2009 Grand Prix Final in December without a quad. His 249.45 points from the Final, where he popped the second triple Axel into a single during the free skate, is the highest international score ever awarded to an American man.
“For me, it’s just as difficult to have an intricate program and have to execute everything in it as it would be for me to execute a quad,” Lysacek said. And the judges agreed Tuesday, giving him a definite edge in the program components mark, which factors in everything from program choreography to transitions, two spots where Lysacek gained about a point on the Russian.
Even without the quad, Lysacek thinks the gold medal can be his.
“I’m the reigning World Champion so with that comes expectation that I can win the Olympics,” Lysacek said. “I don’t think the gold medal is automatically mine because I won Worlds. I don’t think it’s Plushenko’s simply because he won it last time. I think whoever wins will be whoever performs the best, not whoever has performed the best in the past. I think I can be the best at the Olympics.”
Although it has been a dream for Lysacek, Olympic gold is not the only thing he’s after.
“I want to win but I can’t only think about the end result,” Lysacek said. “I really want to perform well this time around because in Torino, I did a really embarrassing short program that even my best free skate couldn’t have saved me from. I know that I’ll be satisfied with any final result if I know it was the best that I could do.”
But he called the Olympic gold medal “the ultimate reward” recently.
“Everyone tells me it changes your life,” Lysacek said.
Lysacek is the first to skate in the final group, taking the ice at approximately 8:15 p.m. local time Thursday. Following him are Japan’s Nobunari Oda (fourth), Switzerland’s Stephane Lambiel (fifth), Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi (third), the United States’ Johnny Weir (sixth) and Plushenko.
Two-time U.S. Champion Jeremy Abbott, no longer in contention for the podium, skates earlier in the evening following his 15th place performance in the short program. The third skater in Group 2, Abbott is expected to begin his program at approximately 6:21, before most of the gold medal hopefuls even arrive.
Photos courtesy of Leah Adams
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